How to Get better at Drawing: Contrast

Updated: Oct 29, 2020

Thought of coming back to the series and share with you another art tip that is going to be a major game-changer for your art: Contrast!

Contrast is the medium that our eyes use to identify the different elements of the world, without it everything will look either blinding white or pitch black.

In fact, a good artist is simply someone who has mastered contrast. Why? Because as an artist you're all the time contrasting between the values of your drawing medium (i.e. ink, pencil, charcoal, colour, etc.) and the white, empty canvas. It is that contrast the creates the subject you're attempting to depict!

This is especially important for those who are into realistic drawing, because nothing matters more than having a clear understanding of how contrast affects your work.

The following examples show two works of art: one with a high level of contrast, and one with a lesser level of contrast. I'm not saying that one is wrong and the other is right, all I'm trying to do is to show you how contrast can make your art more or less realistic and recognizable.

Notice the example above. This is a sophisticated piece of art, although it may not seem so at first sight, but you will know that it is if you tried to replicate it.

The artist here uses his deep understanding of contrast to sculpt his subject matter and make every item, to some degree, discernable. Without such mastery of contrast this could have easily gone down hill and ended up as a huge mess.

See the blue circles. The key is to know where to place the contrast, and it is often just a small line or shape with a different degree of brightness or value. This what shifts something from being completely unknown to something familiar.

Now that I think of it, it would be a great opportunity for you to practice your contrast understanding by taking this very painting and trying to make its components clearer. Unfortunately, I think this option is only available digitally.

This example, however, displays a very high level of contrast, except for some parts of the face and the attire. In here you can see every element clearly and all the details are laid down for the viewer, which created a very realistic effect.

You will need time to develop and master this skill. Just be conscious of the role of contrast in your work and constantly observe how you implement it.

One last tip, being a skilled artist does not mean that you have to only draw realistically, you simply have to master the fundamentals and implement them effectively to produce a piece of art that you are genuinely proud of.

Until next time, keep on drawing, keep on dreaming. What you seek is already yours, you just have to wake up and experience it.